Posts Tagged ‘John F. Kennedy’

King Holly, King Oak

December 21, 2018

It’s a maple, not an oak, but it will have to do for now.

“You were just starting to get into your groove,” the dog-walker said apologetically as I yielded the trail, interrupting the run I had just begun.

More of a rut than a groove, I thought. I run this trail pretty much every Monday and Wednesday, and then lift weights afterward. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, I ride. On Fridays, I brood. Especially when the Friday in question happens to be the shortest day of the year, followed by the longest night.

If I ever actually found a groove and was getting into it, I mused, it would probably be something like the groove on an old vinyl LP, spiraling in at 33 1/3 rpm toward the black hole in the center. Stairway to heaven? More like highway to Hell.

Now ruts I know. I had been in an actual rut the day before I encountered the dog-walker, climbing Trail 341 counterclockwise on my second-best Steelman.

Anyone who saw me lurching upward in the 36×28 might have thought me a lost, loopy roadie, Trail 341 being a narrow, serpentine climb, sometimes featuring actual serpents; rocky where it isn’t loose, fenced with cane cholla, with a couple-three blind corners, no passing lanes, and the occasional rut just to keep things interesting.

But I was in the best mental health I could summon in December, especially this December, and as I said, it was my second-best Steelman. Plus I was climbing, not descending, which lets me ease into trouble rather than diving in headlong.

I had been descending Trail 341 when one of these ruts caught me unawares back in July 2017. I was aboard the Voodoo Nakisi, which with its plump Bruce Gordon Rock n’ Roads is ordinarily more than a match for this short, not particularly technical descent.

But my mind had wandered, as it will, and it didn’t wander back until after I had bitten the dust, grabbing a handful of cholla as I went down.

“What the hell are you doing?” my mind asked.

“Oh, shut up,” I replied, yanking spines from my left hand. “This is your fault.”

“What, I told you to yardsale in a rut?” my mind chortled. “I was just trying to get a little work done while you were dicking around. Jeez, I can’t leave you alone for a minute.”

Ever since taking that little digger I’ve ridden Trail 341 as a climb instead of a descent, though the neighborhood Singletrack Sanitation Service has ironed out a few of its nastier wrinkles. It leaves me in something of a metaphorical rut, true, but it’s a problem I don’t need to solve; a nettle I don’t care to grasp.

Especially in December, when there’s never enough sun to really warm your bones, and what there is of it hangs low in the sky, either blinding you to the path or cloaking it in shadows.

My rides and temper shorten with the days. I get up in the dark and by the time I‘ve gotten a handle on current events — what has the Arsehole-in-Chief managed to shit on today? — it’s dark again and time to go back to bed. This makes for unsettling dreams.

Dreams. The ancient Celts saw the solstices as battles between twin kings, Oak vs. Holly, warmth and light pitted against cold and dark.

Neither king is ever truly vanquished. The Holly King is ascendant as the old year wanes, but as the new year approaches the Oak King reclaims the throne.

It was a murky morning as this year’s winter solstice came to Newgrange, and the Oak King did not make an appearance. But this doesn’t mean that the Holly King has finally triumphed. The struggle continues.

And I recall another Irish legend, who once said: “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”

Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle. Grasp the nettle.

• Editor’s note: I had planned to make this an episode of Radio Free Dogpatch, but various ruts kept tripping me up. At least you can give a listen to the music I had in mind for the background — “King Holly, King Oak,” from Johnny Cunningham via “Celtic Christmas,” a Windham Hill sampler I’d forgotten I owned. And happy solstice to you.

Behind the curtain

November 22, 2013
President John F. Kennedy.

President John F. Kennedy.

Nov. 22, 1963, may have been the day when I first realized that all was not as it seemed.

I was sitting in front of my fifth-grade class at Randolph AFB outside San Antonio, reading aloud to the other kids (yes, even at age 9 I had the mellifluous speaking voice we have all come to know and love), when The Authorities announced via loudspeaker that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

That was it for school. Stunned, confused, we trudged home and, with the rest of the world, watched on TV as the young president was buried and Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson sworn in to replace him.

Yeah, right. Replace Jack Kennedy. Like that could ever happen.

Forget everything you’ve learned about him since. For a 9-year-old Irish-American, JFK was as good as it got. Like my old man, he’d been in the war; like me, JFK was a swimmer. “PT 109” sailed well ahead of “The Ten Commandments” in my personal mythology, and “Profiles in Courage” may have been the first work of non-fiction that I ever read.

JFK wasn’t some baldheaded old warhorse like President Eisenhower, or a sweaty, shifty-eyed rodent like Richard M. Nixon — he was young, and brash, and when he went eyeball to eyeball with the Commies,  guess who blinked first? Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, that’s who. Made it a little easier to crouch under the desk during duck-and-cover drills, knowing that Jack had our back.

Then, in a wink of an eye, he was dead. Gone. And some jug-eared Texican was calling himself the president. LBJ used Randolph as a landing strip whenever he had a hankerin’ to visit the ranch, and we went to see him a time or two, but it felt like bullshit to me. This guy was the president? Says fuckin’ who?

In the October-November issue of AARP The Magazine, Bob Schieffer recalls covering the assassination as night police reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He likens the transition from Eisenhower to Kennedy to a key scene in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Remember how the movie started out in black-and-white, and then Dorothy opens her front door into this vibrant Technicolor? That’s how I think of the Kennedy administration. He brought style and grace, and inspired a generation to do something for their country.

I’ll carry that a step further. The assassination of John F. Kennedy revealed to some of us, for the first time, that there is a man behind the curtain, a shadowy, furtive figure that warrants our close and undivided attention, no matter what the Wizard says up front.

And while the Wizard loves to work his magic in rich, warm colors, the world often shows itself to us most truly in stark black and white.

• Editor’s note: As you might expect, Charles P. Pierce has some thoughts on this subject, too.